El Paso

El Paso

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Well, It's Been a While (6/29/15)


My favorite nights truly are the ones when a bunch of people go to a park near A-House (even some kids from Casa Vides make the long walk over) and play soccer.  The games always start at 7.30pm so that people have time to digest their dinner that is always eaten at 6:00pm. Our field is in the grassy area of a baseball field there, and our goals are often between two of the players’ water bottles, though sometimes two small red goals are brought from A-House. Tonight was the second chance that I got to do this, as I was working the last two times.  The age range of players is fairly wide: we have kids as young as 11 there, and some men look to be in their forties.  Although I am certainly not the best soccer player, it is without a doubt my favorite sport to play, and this has by far been my favorite venue and group of people to play with.  (Sorry to my intramural soccer team from last semester, but this is just too good!) Yes, we are competitive, but it is truly all in good fun.  It’s not the kind of competitive one sees when people get really upset over the other team scoring or getting an upper hand; it’s the kind of competitive where we play hard, but if a person on the other team falls, we will laugh and help them up.  (However, I am sad to admit that I often say words that I am not proud of when I get particularly frustrated.)
                I wish you all were able to hear the shouts of “ya!” or “a bolterro!” or “a Cuba!” because there are two Cubans at A-House that often play and many just call them “Cuba.” I wish you could see how amazing some of the people are at playing.  I wish you could this mix of guest, volunteer, and the occasional visitor sweating under a near full moon and playing what is, in my opinion, the best sport in the world, all being conducted in Spanish. (Sorry to those I offend by claiming this.)  It is a sport that truly brings the world together.  Tomorrow, there is a soccer game between Mexico and Honduras that the guests at A-House are going to watch, and I plan on attending. I can only imagine the energy that is going to be in front of their medium-sized TV there, and I know I want to be a part of it!
                I have been struggling for quite some time now on what to write about for this blog, as I am sure is apparent.  I figure I’ll just tell you all some happenings that I find worth reporting, both from my volunteer life and immigration life.
  • ·         A couple of weeks ago, a new law was made that requires immigrants that are released from detention to await their court dates to have an ankle bracelet, sort of like those that people that are under house arrest have.  Typically, only one person per family has this), unless immigration has reason to believe that the family might separate.  If I remember correctly, a single charge will last 14 hours per day, and then one must sit by an outlet as it charges. However, it’s easiest to find a way to plug it in while you sleep and have it fully charged for the next day. What is paying for all of this do you ask? Your taxes of course! And I can only imagine how expensive they are to get.
  • ·         We have officially received a new round of social security guests at Casa Vides.  Chayito and Andrea have left, my two friends that have special needs. We now have SO MANY adolescent boys, and it can be frustrating.  I don’t know how to deal with energetic pre-teen and teenage boys in groups, and to be perfectly honest, I find it intimidating! Hopefully, I can get Corey, the only male volunteer in the house, to help me out with all of that.  Also, we recently received a long-term family from A-House yesterday, so hopefully I get to know them better soon.
  • ·         Last week, the volunteers here at Casa Vides had our monthly Commy Day. No, Commy Day is not a day where we celebrate communism; it is a day we spend as a community.  We are allotted 8 dollars per person as our budget and do something as a group.  So all of us piled into a van and took ventured into New Mexico to go swimming at a dam and spend time at White Sands National Memorial.  Swimming was refreshing, but I really enjoyed White Sands.  There are so many dunes of white sand that one is given the illusion of being surrounded by hills covered in snow, but with desert plants sticking up here and there and sand that will take days to wash out of your hair.  There is a certain beauty to it, though, and there is something about it that is quite serene.  And, of course, rolling down sand dunes is just really fun!
  • ·         It is here that I should probably mention that on this outing, I went through my first border checkpoint.  On all of the major highways outside of El Paso, typically at least 40 miles away, there are border check points to make sure that there are no illegal immigrants entering the United States that may have gotten past our first defenses.  It was pretty easy for us, as we are all white and have the privilege of not being suspect of any illegal border activity. Someone simply asked if we were all U.S. citizens and, Maria, who was driving said yes, and we were on our way.  That’s all.  It’s too bad that was a lie, as one of the other summer volunteers is actually a French citizen on the path to citizenship (she has spent most of her life here in the States).  This experience continues to expand my understanding on just how expansive US immigration is.

This past week, I was asked to start doing some tasks for Ruben, our head honcho and one of the original founders of the organization, at our office at Casa T (where volunteers usually go on days off because of the upstairs apartment – the bottom floors has two large, somewhat cluttered offices).  My task was to write personalized (as in from me personally) thank you letters to our donors, which I was more than happy to do.  This organization survives on donations, and it made my heart smile to know that I was able to thank donors for their part in keeping Annunciation House alive.  It is here that I will ask if my readers, if you feel so inclined, donate something to A-House, if you feel so inclined.  It doesn’t have to be money, but it can be if you would like, even if it was a sum as low as $5. Everything helps.  We also accept clothes, and lots of them! We are almost always in need of clothes and shoes for men.  (Eddie, a guest from Honduras, was just telling me while walking back to the house after soccer how he didn’t play often because he has no tennis shoes.) If anyone really wants to attempt to send food, go for it! And if you feel unable or uninclined to donate, that’s okay, too. 
I am halfway through my experience here, but I feel like there is so much more I need to learn and do.  This morning’s reflection was led by Maria, and she had us refocus our thoughts on why we were here – on what our feelings are now and how we feel moving forward.  I took that opportunity to write down what I felt I had accomplished so far and what goals I have for the next 5 weeks.  Let me say that I feel so blessed to be where I am, and I am so happy that I have learned to speak this new language as much as I have, that improves and becomes more automatic every day; to have learned all that I have learned; to have formed the relationships that I have; and to have made some amazing memories.  But I still have much farther to go, and I will keep learning, keep practicing Spanish, keep not letting opportunities pass me by, and keep reflecting on why I am here. 

Thanks again to all of you for supporting me while I’m off trying to understand this crazy world!
Until next time, I send you all light and love,


Sunday, June 7, 2015

An Important Note

Aiding, Abetting, Harboring, or Encouraging Illegal Aliens is a Felony

Section 8 USC 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv)(b)(iii):

(a) Criminal penalties
(A) Any person who—
(i) knowing that a person is an alien, brings to or attempts to bring to the United States in any manner whatsoever such person at a place other than a designated port of entry or place other than as designated by the Commissioner, regardless of whether such alien has received prior official authorization to come to, enter, or reside in the United States and regardless of any future official action which may be taken with respect to such alien;
(ii) knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that an alien has come to, entered, or remains in the United States in violation of law, transports, or moves or attempts to transport or move such alien within the United States by means of transportation or otherwise, in furtherance of such violation of law;
(iii) knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that an alien has come to, entered, or remains in the United States in violation of law, conceals, harbors, or shields from detection, or attempts to conceal, harbor, or shield from detection, such alien in any place, including any building or any means of transportation;
(iv) encourages or induces an alien to come to, enter, or reside in the United States, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such coming to, entry, or residence is or will be in violation of law; or
(I) engages in any conspiracy to commit any of the preceding acts, or
(II) aids or abets the commission of any of the preceding acts,
shall be punished as provided in subparagraph (B).

Yes, this means that if I violate any of these, I could be arrested.  So this is the question that I am left with after reading these words on the last day of orientation: What am I prepared to risk for something I believe in? What are you prepared to risk?

Until next time, I send light and love,

A Short Stroll (6/2/15)

                Yesterday, I had some time to kill, so I decided to take a stroll over to Juarez, Mexico.  Yes, Juarez was the murder capital of the world a few years back, about 2010-2012, but it is much safer nowadays (though clearly far from perfect).  The violence a few years ago was due to two warring drug cartels fighting for turf, but one has since then prevailed, meaning there has been significantly less conflict.
Let me begin by saying that it is ridiculously easy to get into Mexico.  I took the short stroll down Paisano, took a right on El Paso (passing all the little clothing stores, some featuring jeans with butt padding, which I found to be quite interesting), and after a few blocks I was at the border pass. (A walk that took about 10 minutes) It is a bridge that goes over the ever-thirsty, dried-up Rio Grande, which has a sidewalk for people crossing by foot.  I paid 50 cents to cross from the US side, and I walked over the bridge.  When I got to the other side, there were some Mexican border patrol that I walked right past and onto the streets of Juarez. No one stopped me once, checked me for anything, or even asked for my passport (which was a little disappointing because I like passport stamps).  It was completely different when I returned to El Paso, which had much more organization, lines and checks to go through, etc.  Granted, I can understand why Mexico border patrol wouldn’t be too worried about people trying to get into Mexico or taking anything illegal there, because anything of alarm is typically outgoing rather than in-coming.
                So, I started walking straight down the street that I had come upon, and I could feel the difference between the city I had come from and the city I was in instantly.  There was a different feel; it was a little bit dustier, and this place was DEFINITELY Mexico.  I walked past various shops, which were nothing like the clothing shops that I had passed on my way to the border. These were more like some places to get your eyes checked, some bars, some small food/sweet places, a few currency exchanges, etc.  None were tailored to tourists, except maybe one, where I saw some things that I thought my brothers might like (such as those thick poncho-looking things that one sees modern-day American hippies wear).  It was simply a main street that anyone could frequent.  There were also some vendors on the street that sold things like cigarettes, gum, some small candy, and, my favorite, chopped up fruit (including mango and pineapple!) 
I eventually came to another main street, blocked off from vehicles, and made a left on it, where I immediately came upon a live band playing in the street. It sounded like some kind of American rock, circa 1970s (or at least had a 70s feel to me).  I leaned against a structure that looked like it should either hold a fountain or some potting plants that was near the band, listened, and took in the atmosphere.  Not too far, there was a man selling some nice bags, pottery, and souvenirs on a blanket on the street.  Not too far to my left, there was a beautiful stone church (or maybe it’s a cathedral?) that was stunning and appeared to be watching over all of the people on the square in front of it.  After a few songs of listening to this live band, I headed for the church, passing a centro comericial and more stores/restaurants, walking through the small square full of trees and plants edged by short cement walls that people were lounging on, finding solace in the shade and enjoying the day.  I came to the steps of the church, walked through an open gate, climbed some steps, and entered.
There were a few people in there, some just sitting, others kneeling in prayer. It was fairly dark, being lit by some of the light that made its way through the stain glass windows. Far off in the front of the church from a location I couldn’t pinpoint, there was some hymns being sung, filling the silence.  I took a seat at the back, and looked up at the crucifix hanging over the alter at the head of the church.  I looked up Jesus, hanging limp and dead on the cross, and contemplated life, reflecting on why I had left the Catholic Church (yes, of all my thoughts, this is where my mind went).  While I have not identified as Christian for years now, I still admire Jesus Christ.  But not like this.  I admire the life he led, his teachings (as in his words, which is really the only thing I pay attention to on those rare occasions I choose to pick up a Bible).  Him hanging there on a cross showed me death.  I understand that the death of Jesus something that is critical for the Catholic faith, but I want to focus on his life, because I think that is what Jesus was teaching: to live a good and honorable life, to keep with your morals, and to not forget that there is something bigger than ourselves.
After a few minutes lost in thought like this, I left, going out a side door and back the way I came.  I went back down the street the way I came, bought some pesos, which I used to buy some cut-up mango off the street, and listen to the live band a little bit more. 
This entire little excursion was only about an hour and a half long, but it was a good way to dip my toes into Mexico.  Some things that I didn’t mention were some occasional smells of sewer while walking, giving me flashbacks to Bangkok; some looks, assumedly because I was a while girl in a sea of tanned-skin Latinos, giving me flashbacks to Pune, India; and some beggars, which I still turn my heart off to so as to not try to sit down and talk to all of them.  Overall, though, I felt completely safe the entire time, and it was a great first experience. 
Until next time, I send you all some light and love,


Monday, June 1, 2015

Loretto (5/29/15)

              A few days ago, all of us new volunteers went to see another site (other than the two main houses) that we will be working at called Loretto.  Loretto is a part of a nursing home that has been unused for years and that has been donated for our use.  At this site, people who have been detained and processed by immigration control are released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are dropped off to us.  From what I gather, this is possible because ICE knows who we are and we have a good relationship with them.  The people usually coming through were usually detained by ICE right after crossing the border not through a port of entry or came without proper papers, or are seeking asylum.  There, we offer food, a change of clothes, showers, and a place to sleep for the night.  The people who usually come through are almost always families, including nursing mothers.  These families usually have family that is already living in the United States that they are trying to meet up with, and we help them get to those loved ones.  The people that pass through typically have a phone number for their family, and we help them call their relative and explain to said relative how to buy a bus or plane ticket for our guest.  The people that pass through Loretto may leave that very day, or may leave after a few days, depending on travel plans.

Not everyone will be able to stay in the United States, however.  They have to check in with an immigration office in their respective cities/destinations, where their case will be further processed.  There was one woman from Guatemala that we received yesterday who was nursing a baby.  She travelled all the way from her home country, assumedly by bus with her daughter, to seek a better life in the United States.  She said she was poor, with a passed husband and father, and I assume she wanted to find a better life here.  She had family in Florida, if I remember correctly, and will be further processed there.  She will probably ultimately end up being deported back to Guatemala, because poverty is not a good enough reason to be granted residency, as per US standards.  Usually people who are permitted to stay are seeking asylum, wherein the people must have had reasonable fear to leave their homes.  In many cases, this is due to extortion.

There is one woman, Blanca, who recently arrived at Loretto.  Blanca has two broken legs. She broke her legs while trying to get over the border fence into the United States.  I was struck when I found this out; what situation must this woman be coming from to lead her to take such a risk?  I mean she literally broke her bones trying to get here.  Not only that, but she came all the way from Ecuador, taking a month and a half to get here.  There was another woman that came in with her family, and though I didn’t understand much, I understood that there were men that had entered her home who held guns to her family’s head, including her own. After hearing about where Blanca and some of the others came from and what efforts they made in getting here, it makes me realize 1) how lucky I am, and how grateful I am to have lived the safe, blessed life that I do and 2) I know way too little about what is happening on this half of the world. 

I do not see Loretto as a place of sadness, though.  I see it as a place of hope.  There is a playroom for children there, and I went into it to play with some of the kids.  There were two toddler boys and a seven year old girl, and two fathers.  I spoke with one of the fathers, Benjamin, who is 33 and is the father of the 7 year old, and I could feel it, the hope.  He liked showing us some of his knowledge of English words (which I was impressed with because many, if not most, people who pass through here can’t speak any), and he had this light in his eyes and a smile on his face.  I don’t know what it was like in his home in Guatemala, but now he was so close to a new life.  He wants to learn English, he said. And that wish may soon come true, because he left that same day for a relative’s home in Georgia. 

To be quite honest, I get a little emotional over the process.  It is something so incredible to behold.  We get to see people that have picked up their lives, their families, and travelled maybe days (or weeks/months, like Blanca) from their homes on a bus with young kids, with little to nothing with them; I don’t even know if they had money to meet all of their food needs on their journey. And then they get to the border of the United States.  I can imagine looking at it, whether it be a port or a fence, and seeing the last obstacle between the life I left behind and hope for a better future, especially for my children.  When we get them, we get to see them go off to that new life, even be a part of their journey, and I can only hope that they find what they’re looking for and keep it.

Until next time, I send all my love,



A Tribute to Some People (5/27/15)

             I like discovering people that I feel I can look up to.  Usually my go-to’s of the people that inspire me are Elizabeth Gilbert, Malala Yusafzai, Aung San Suu Kyi, Eve Ensler, and others. It usually isn’t people my age, though there are some, such as many of my friends that I find to be incredible and amazingly inspirational.  (Also, my little sister Jordan who has so much energy and life in her.)   I am getting a sense that some of the year-long volunteers are going to be added to my list.  For example, Maria is a year-long volunteer at Casa Vides, where I am also stationed.  Only a few days into orientation, and I could already sense that she is has one of the kindest souls that I have encountered in my life thus far.  She has some amazing relationships with the people in the house; she is so good with the kids; she is very dedicated to the house and making it be the best that it can.  She has an amazing relationship with Vicki, an 82 year old woman who has been living here for 2 years.  I see a love between them that I don’t often encounter and that I want to someday experience.  (I would say I love my great-grandma in the same way, but I only see my grandma every so often when I make the trip to Cleveland to go see her.)  This love is a beauty of life that only humans can transmit, and that each of us can cultivate within ourselves if we try to.  Maria also jams on her acoustic guitar and enjoys reading, which right now is a feminist book entitled “cunt”.  

There a few guests also named Maria, but there is one Maria in particular that I have grown quite fond of.  This Maria is in her early sixties, has some sight issues, and is very patient with me when I am practicing my Spanish with her.  I often see her in the sala, appearing to be waiting patiently for one of the volunteers to come over and talk to her, and she readily welcomes our company.  Maria observes other guests, and I can infer her opinion of them by the way she talks about them to me.  For example, she has watched another guest, Margarita, when she eats many times in a day, and comments on the large size of Margarita’s body (està gorda!).  This woman knows more about me in many respects than the other volunteers here (For example, she knows that I like to sleep without clothes on when I’m at my own house.)Unfortunately, Maria is leaving on tomorrow, which is something sad for both of us. Who would have known that it only takes so little time for someone to make their way into your heart? 

But enough about good-byes! I want to talk about Chayito.  Chayito arrived this last week with a new round of social security guests with her mom.  Chayito has Down’s syndrome.  She is, and I still can’t believe this, 37 years old. She likes playing candy crush and pool, and she’s not half bad at both.  I played her in pool yesterday (which was just us and one of her friends, Andrea (she also has special needs) trying to get whatever balls we could into the little net thingy’s (is there a word for those?).  Seeing her reminds me of my brother, Evan, who also has Down’s syndrome.  Each moment that I spend with her is a moment spent with my brother.  (Similar to each moment that I spend with Vicki, I feel like I am with my great-grandma).  Chayito and I have only known each other for about 2 days, but I truly look forward to her being here and spending time with her for the next month.

Gustavo is 16, and he is here with his mother and brother.  He is an amazing artist, wants to be a culinary artist, and knows some English that he sometimes surprises me with. (His brother, Julian, also surprises me with the phrases he knows, like, “don’t touch me.”)  There is a little art studio/ food joint / bar / place that sometimes has live music place two doors down from Casa Vides.  There are garage doors with murals that lead to this place, called the Rock House, and one of them is one that Gustavo painted.  It is a psychedelic looking painting, with a colorful woman with flowers in hair, some alligators in the background, and fire. It is really good, and I admire Gustavo for his artistic skills, especially with this one water color of jellyfish he once showed me and the other volunteers.  I feel like I took on him, Julian, and Alejandro (a seven year old here) as little brothers.

If you are wondering how I am communicating with the guests here, I can tell you that immersion does wonders for developing Spanish skills.  It’s only been about one week, and I feel so much better with my Spanish skills (again, much of this is attributed to my practice with guest-Maria).  It is no longer a language that I feel is outside of myself.  I feel like is now under my skin, in the back of my thoughts, and as long as I continue to use and practice it, I know it will improve considerably.

I also want to give a shout out to the rest of the volunteers at Casa Vides (Paige, Alice, Kassy, and Cory), who all seem pretty cool and will be a great support network to have when we hit some bumps along the road. Paige is vegan, LGBT, likes the guitar, and is pretty cool roommate.  Alice is actually a citizen of France, but I am pretty sure she has lived in the states for most of her life.  Kassy appears to have a light, spritely, kind soul.  I often see her sitting in the back yard area, and part of me wonders where her mind drifts off to during that time, or if she is just focusing on the music that she’s listening to.  Cory is the other year-long intern at the house.  He’s 26, 6’4”, and has some crazy curly brown hair going on.  He seems pretty chill, for lack of a better word, but I don’t yet know too much about him, like the others. 

Until next time, I send you some light and love,